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New online class probes portrayal of disabilities in film, societal impacts of cinematic treatments

May 3, 2012

Movie poster for “Temple Grandin”Finding the motivation to get to class can be difficult at times.

Many individuals have experienced the desire to participate and learn in the comfort of their own living spaces.

Some Northern Illinois University students are currently “living the dream,” because NIU now offers a number of classes that meet online either completely or at least for a majority of the time.

Among those online courses is Disability in Film (TLSE 490/590).

The premise of the course is narrow and interesting: How do films portray disabilities, and how does that affect our society?

Movies that involve individuals with disabilities that were shown in the class this semester include  “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” “Wait Until Dark,” “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Rory O’Shea was Here,” “Law & Order” (TV series), “Radio,” “Temple Grandin,” “Scent of a Woman,” “The Ringer, “Adam,” “Beeswax” and “The Station Agent.”

Tania Mikula, a student in the class, learned “just how starkly different people with disabilities are in real life than in movies.”

“Movies portray them either super-depressed to where their life is too depressing as a person with disabilities that they have to end it, or they are super-amazing,” she added. “And that is just not true in real life. It is more of a spectrum that has varying levels of severity.”

Jeff Chan

Jeff Chan

Jeff Chan, assistant professor in the Department of Special and Early Education, calls the online course successful.

“It’s been nice to see how the materials in the course have dispelled some myths about disabilities. I’m also taking the opportunity to use the movies to introduce different trends and issues involving disabilities, such as accessibility, independent living, and inclusion,” Chan said. “Finally, I think the course has been very informative for students who have no prior experiences with disabilities.”

He has “liked the online environment quite a bit.”

“The students are participating consistently on the discussion board,” Chan said. “The thing that probably makes them the happiest is that the movies are rentable online, which allows them to work on the course when it’s convenient for them.”

Student Misty Earnest said she has enjoyed the class and its online component: “It’s very easy to navigate, the discussion board is a nice way to share opinions about the films, and let’s face it, not having to drive to campus has been great.”

by Sarah Fraser